Product Knowledge: Gycolic Acid

Glycolic Acid is known for exfoliating skin, improving texture and revealing a fresh, smooth, more youthful complexion.


But aren’t products with Glycolic acid only to be used by dermatologists and highly trained estheticians? Don’t they just acid burn off your face and if you mess up you will look like two-face?


No and yes… it all depends on the percentage and pH levels of the glycolic acid in your products and who is using the products.  And don’t worry this kind of acid isn’t the same kind from Batman.

Read more to find out what you should be using and how it can benefit your skin…

Glycolic acid is part of the group of active compounds known as AHA’s (alpha hydroxy acids). Glycolic acid is derived from cane sugar so it can be found in many all natural and organic products.


It has the smallest molecules in the group so is able to penetrate skin deeply and easily, making it the most effective for treating fine lines, acne, blackheads, dullness, oiliness etc. Though it is the smallest molecules it is the strongest of all the AHAs.

Chemical vs Mechanical Exfoliant

It breaks apart the bonds (desmosomes) between skin cells. That is why its is called a chemical peel vs mechanical exfoliation.

  • Mechanical is using a scrub or a loofah to rub off the dead skin cells that sit on top.
  • Chemical is breaking apart and dissolving different cells to loosen and dead skin cells that are still attached to the epidermis or below the epidermis to create more space for newer cells to form.

Glycolic acid also acts as both a moisturizer; it increases the skin’s supply of hyaluronic acid, which can hold 1000 times its weight in water, thus making glycolic acid a humectant.

It has shown it to increase collagen production, fibroblast proliferation, and cell turnover rates and you know what that means: smoother, more elastic skin!


Anything above a 15% concentration is high and needs to be used with knowledge and caution.  But you also need to watch for how it’s pH levels are buffered (other agents that help keep the glycolic acid from being too irritating).  Our skin’s natural pH level is 5.5 (neutral is 7). We have slightly acidic skin because it is our skins way of trying to kill some bacteria when it just even touches us. Keeping the pH level of the acid around 3 is the general way to keep it from becoming too acidic and causing burns.

  • in 1997 the CIR expert pannel  concluded that AHAs  are safe for consumers when its around 10% or less  with a pH of 3.5.
  • to get a peel done by a professional  they range from 10-30%  with a pH level of 3 and this service is very time sensitive as to not cause deeper damage to skin.
  • anything higher is to be used only by a doctor.

Chemical peels use a high percentage of this acid and can be very effective if done safely and properly. And 10% should be enough for at home, if you are using a product daily. In that case, you are getting a good amount of glycolic acid in each dose and your skin will see improvement over time.

Glycolic Peels used by a professional can run anywhere from 100-200$ and take about 4-6 treatments every 4-8 weeks to treat more cystic acne, deep wrinkles and hyper pigmentation.


Because you are now exposing new, fresh,and thinned skin… you are open to becoming sensitive. If you have already sensitive skin, you might become red, feel itchy or burning. It should go away on its own within a few minutes. You can help by placing a clean, cool, damp cloth on your skin.

MYTH: Glycolic peels cause skin to dry out.  

TRUTH: no its that afterwards your skin may be red and irritated. Most people’s first reaction to  this is to not touch it (because it may be tender) and not put moisturizer on… letting it dry out. The second reason people think this is: some different products and the way they are used could be the reasoning of drying out your skin. But as explained above, glycolic acid helps stimulate Hyalruanic acid, which holds 1000 times its water.

You can do a skin patch test if you are very sensitive to make sure you won’t have any adverse effects. As much as the old saying goes “Pain is Beauty”, having a painful, tender, red reaction rash all over your face is isn’t safe, comfortable or beautiful.


Fresh and sensitive skin is very susceptible to UV damage. If using at home products, try to use them at night and no matter when, use a sun screen afterwards to protect your skin. If you are using glycolic acid products to battle acne, oil free sun screens are a great option.

Read more here about sun exposure and how to protect your skin

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